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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Rabbi backs India's 'lost Jews'
Inside the Manipur synagogue
Bnei Menashe say they are one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel
One of Israel's chief rabbis has recognised an Indian tribe as lost descendants of ancient Israelites.

The Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Jews, Shlomo Amar, has informed members of the 6,000-strong Bnei Menashe community in India's north-east of his decision.

The ruling will ease the tribes' emigration to Israel from the states of Manipur and Mizoram.

Bnei Menashe members welcomed the announcement, saying they could now "go to the Promised Land".

'Detailed investigation'

The chief rabbi is now planning to formally convert the Bnei Menashe members to Orthodox Judaism.

Lalrin Sailo, convenor of the Singlung-Israel association, an organisation representing the "Jews of Mizoram" said: "We have always said we are descendants of Menashe (son of Joseph) so it is great to hear our claims have been authenticated."

Elizabeth Zodingliani, right
Elizabeth Zodingliani, right, wants to settle in Jerusalem

According to the community, the Bnei Menashe are one of the lost 10 tribes of Israel who were exiled when Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th Century BC.

The community's oral tradition is that the tribe travelled through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and on to eastern India.

The Bnei Menashe represent only a tiny fraction of India's north-eastern Christian community.

Lalrin Sailo told the BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta that the chief rabbi had made his ruling after "detailed investigations" lasting several years.

A team of rabbinical judges will now be sent to north-east India to formally convert the tribes to Orthodox Judaism.

Once converted, the Bnei Menashe can apply for immigration to Israel under the Law of Return, without needing authorisation from the country's Interior Ministry.

Elizabeth Zodingliani, who edits Israel Tlangau (Israel News) in Aizawal, capital of India's north-eastern state of Mizoram, said: "We will now all go to the Promised Land, to Israel. I hope we can settle down in Jerusalem."

DNA tests

A key date in the recent history of the Bnei Menashe was 1951, when a Pentecostal minister named Tchalah, acting he said on a prophecy from God, called for a return to the Holy Land. However, the links were not then approved.

Jews in Mizoram
Studies brought up similarities with Judaism

In the 1970s, when the Bible was translated into the local language, similarities with the customs and practices of Israeli people were noticed, Bnei Menashe members say.

A researcher of the Mizo tribe, Zaithanchuungi, developed the lost-tribe claims in 1981 and presented papers to various seminars in Israel.

Some Israeli groups like the Amishav, now known as Shavei, which helps Jews move to Israel, supported the claim and says it has brought 800 people from the Bnei Menashe to Israel.

Other Israeli groups have dismissed the claim as "historically untenable." DNA studies at the Central Forensic Institute in Calcutta suggest that while the masculine side of the tribes bears no links to Israel, the feminine side suggests a genetic profile with Middle Eastern people that may have arisen through inter-marriage.

Israeli social scientist Lev Grinberg told the BBC last year that right-wing Jewish groups wanted such conversions of distant people to boost the population in areas disputed by the Palestinians.

India's 'lost Jews' wait in hope
18 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Mizo 'Jews' seek Israel visas
23 Dec 03 |  South Asia
Israel to expand settlement
02 Oct 03 |  Middle East
Q&A: India's violent north-east
21 Nov 03 |  South Asia


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